DuckDuckGo

DuckDuckGo is a pro privacy search engine that is available on almost all browsers. Unlike Google, DuckDuckGo does not profile you online, meaning that the search engine doesn’t collect your information or track you everywhere so that the information can be used to tailor ads. DDG has been doing pretty well. Here is its traffic report:

Source: DuckDuckGo

I use both Google and DuckDuckGo on my Mac, with the latter as my default search engine. Even though DDG does the job most of the time and gives me reasonable results, it is not as good as Google. I am not even talking about the personalization of searches. Below are the two examples that shows DDG has some work to do.

Search Results

When you look for a location, DDG doesn’t offer immediately a map option on the engine to the location. Here is my trying to find Ted and Wally’s, a known ice cream shop in Omaha.

There is nowhere I can find its opening hours, address or direction to the place immediately. Here is how it looks on Google, with the same keyword

There is a lot more information given by Google. Instead of multiple clicks to find out the basic information, I don’t even have to go anywhere to know the address, phone number and opening hours. Direction is just one click away.

Search Time Frame

With DuckDuckGo, you can only filter searches as far as the past month.

On Google, the options are much more varied.

I love DDG. The team believes that it is possible to have a profitable search engine without profiling users. It’s been killing it. However, I hope that they can bring more improvements to the engine and make it better so that one day I will be an exclusive user of DDG, instead of having both DDG and Google on my computer right now.

If you haven’t used DDG and you care about your privacy online, try it because as mentioned, it does the job.

New Netflix price surge. Should Netflix livestream sports?

Yesterday, Netflix announced their new price structure. Per WSJ:

Netflix will increase the price of its most popular plan 18% to $13 a month from $11. That plan allows users to stream from two screens at the same time. The most basic plan, which allows a single stream in standard definition, will go up one dollar, or 13%, to $9 a month. The new rates will go into effect immediately for new customers and be applied to the accounts of existing customers in the next few months, according to a person familiar with the plans.

The increase in price is not really surprising in my opinion. Netflix has been investing heavily in original content. WSJ reported that the investment would amount up to $12 billion this year. Netflix needs to enlarge its war chest and the additional revenue from the new prices will help with that. It doesn’t hurt that Netflix has some wriggle room to up its prices, according to Priceintelligently. Additionally, as some content owners such as Disney or Warner Media plan to launch their own streaming services, Netflix will likely have to pay more to retain popular shows or movies.

But there is only so much room for increase in subscription prices. If Netflix pushes too hard, they may lose viewers. Consumers will have more options with the arrival of Disney, Warner Media and NBC, in addition to major current players such as HBO, Amazon, Hulu and Showtime. A normal user should not be expected to pay so much for subscriptions every month. Netflix may need to find another area to grow its user base and revenue.

Should Netflix go for sports?

Sports is a hugely important part of our life and hence it is important to businesses that want our money and attention. To see how important sports become to social media and streaming services, here are a few headlines:

The last headline is very interesting. Coming from Vietnam, I can tell you that football (as millions of people in the world outside the US call it) is a religion in my country and hugely popular in that region. Premier League, in particular, attracts football fans in Vietnam in a way that few leagues do. We have to or at least, used to pay for cable TVs to be able to see the games. The service is subpar, and the fees are slightly cheaper than a Netflix subscription. Vietnamese users pay around $8-9 a month for a Netflix subscription while a cable subscription costs around $5-7. If the fans can stream games from their laptops/computers or project games onto TV through Netflix, it will be a game changer. Fans will strongly consider the service, especially with hours of shows and movies as well.  

But does it make sense for Netflix to do so from a business and financial standpoint? Let’s run a scenario.

Together, Vietnam and Thailand have 165 million people in population. The total number of Netflix subscribers in the two countries are just 500,000 (300,000 for Vietnam and 200,000 for Thailand). If we just assume that 40% of the two countries’ population are young from 15 to 40 years of age, fitting the target demographic, I presume, for Netflix, the Total Addressable Market (TAM) is around 66 million for Vietnam and Thailand. I don’t have the number of subscribers in Laos and Cambodia, but if we apply the same assumption to those countries, the TAM is 9.2 million potential subscribers. For the four countries, the TAM is around 75 million.

If a subscriber is worth $8/month and Netflix gains around 100,000 subscribers a year each in Vietnam and Thailand, as well as 50,000 each in Laos and Cambodia, the total revenue can be around $230 million in 3 years, $30 million less than what Facebook pays for its exclusive rights. Also, the total number of subscribers should be at least 1.7 million, barely a fraction of the TAM mentioned above (75 million).

If we increase the subscription price by $1 in the original scenario, the revenue will be around $259 million, almost as much as what Facebook paid.

If the number of subscribers in that scenario goes up by 30%, the revenue in 3 years will be around $300 million and the subscriber count in 4 countries for Netflix will be around 2.06 million, still a small fraction of the TAM.

Of course, all of the above are assumptions which can be way off the mark, but to me, it seems that it is an opportunity there for Netflix. Besides the financials, gaining more subscribers can make Netflix more valuable due to network effect and give them more data about the users. Netflix paid $100 million to keep Friends on its network for a year. Given that amount and the potential upside of providing sports to international markets, I believe Netflix should give it a try. Plus, it can’t afford to see competitors add sports to their selection without doing anything.

I admire the consistency and focus of Netflix. They have been very consistent on their long-term view as a video streaming service. Nonetheless, the situation may necessitate some changes in the future.

Video: Tesla and the nature of disruption

I came across this very interesting conversation between Ben Evans and Steven Sinofsky on Tesla and disruption. When we say Tesla is disrupting, what exactly is it disrupting? Also, who is Tesla truly competing against? Between the electric part and autonomous part, which one is bigger? If you are interested in Tesla, have a listen.

a16z recently started to release their podcast episodes on YouTube, which I truly really appreciate. I learned a lot from them and it serves as an inspiration with regards to B2B marketing/content marketing.

Analysis: Adobe

Adobe has been a darling of Wall Streets for the past few years and a trailblazer of the SaaS movement. Below is Adobe’s stock performance for the past 5 years.

Source: Seeking Alpha

Today, I decided to take a look at Adobe’s past performance since the strategic switch from selling software as a perpetual license to a subscription-based model in April 2012. Even though I do own a few stocks of Adobe, this post stemmed from my curiosity about how the company has performed and if/how the strategic switch impacted the bottom line. Before we go into details, there are a few notes worth mentioning:

  • Adobe’s three main product lines include Digital Media, Digital Experience and Publishing
Source: Adobe FY2018 Earning Call Script
  • Adobe reports financial data by Product lines as just mentioned above and segments (subscription, product and services).

Why Adobe switched to cloud?

In 2011, Creative Suite brought to Adobe more than $4 billion in revenue and a filthy gross margin of 97%. The company sold the software and other products in perpetual licenses. In April 2012, the company announced the transition to the cloud and subscription model. Why?

I’ll let Adobe CFO Mark Garrett and VP of Business Ops & Strategy Dan Cohen at the time answer this question. Per Mark Garrett in an interview with McKinsey:

There were a number of reasons, both financial and strategic. For one, even though customers had higher creative demands, our creative business wasn’t really growing. The number of units we shipped under the old perpetual-licensing model was about three million units a year, and it remained flat for a long time. We were driving revenue growth by raising our average selling price—either through straight price increases or through moving people up the product ladder. That wasn’t a sustainable approach.

The perpetual-licensing model was also limiting us from delivering new innovations and capabilities to our customers. Historically, we had delivered product updates only every 18 or 24 months, but our customers’ content-creation requirements were changing much faster than that, with advances in devices, browsers, mobile apps, and screen sizes.

Inside the company, we had this fundamental belief that there were broader market opportunities for us. Where content was being created and managed, when it was being consumed, and where it was going to be monetized—all of that was changing. We also believed that data were going to become more important. We already had a strong presence in content creation, and we saw an opportunity to broaden our presence in these areas.

The recession was also a factor. During the downturn in 2008 and 2009, our revenue and stock price suffered more than that of most software companies, because other companies had high recurring revenue. Our recurring revenue for the prior fiscal year was about 5 percent annually. We had virtually no financial buffer.

And from Dan Cohen in the same interview:

When we looked at how other software companies were faring during the recession, we saw that companies with high recurring revenue had smaller declines in their growth rates and valuations. We had a very big drop in both—our revenue dropped about 20 percent, and our valuation fell even more. We had extremely high customer-satisfaction rates for our products, but when we drilled down into the numbers, we saw that people were saying things like, “I’m happy with what I have, I don’t see the need to ever buy another one again.” Clearly, we needed to figure out how we could get people to want to buy from us more regularly, and, related to that, how we could innovate better and faster for our customers. We saw that the new software companies that were reaching scale were those operating under a cloud model.

Revenue Growth

Source: Data retrieved from Adobe’s annual reports

Except the two years after the launch (2012 and 2013) and 2018, revenue growth has been climbing. The past three years have seen a revenue growth of more than 20% on average.

Net Income

Source: Data retrieved from Adobe’s annual reports

Even though the trend looked negative from 2008 to 2013, the past 5 years has seen an amazing streak of increase in net income as % of total revenue.

Subscription revenue as % of total revenue

Before 2012, subscription revenue never accounted for more than 16% of Adobe’s revenue. However, everything changed after the launch and as of now, subscription revenue made up more than 87% of Adobe’s revenue.

Segment Revenue Growth

Since 2012, subscription revenue YoY growth has remarkably outperformed that of Products and Services.

Segment Gross Margin

On the other hand, Product reigned superior in terms of Gross Margin while that of subscriptions has crept up over the years. My guess is that Product refers to the sale of perpetual licenses while subscriptions refer to the regular charge of fees for usage of Adobe’s software. Meanwhile, the margin of Service continues to drop.

Subscription-based revenue by Products

Below is the subscription-based revenue by Products: Digital Media, Digital Experience and Publishing. Missing data is due to the lack of reporting by Adobe

For Digital Media and Digital Experience, revenue from subscriptions makes up the majority of each revenue stream.

Conclusion

Around 2011 when the subscription model wasn’t as popular as it is now, Adobe took a considerable risk by being a vanguard going into an uncharted territory. Nonetheless, it seemed that the company had no choice. Based on the interview with the two C-Suite executives at the time, as mentioned above, the business was entering into a threatening and tricky period. Raising prices was not a sustainable solution. Plus, the company faced a risk of being left behind as the explosion of content outpaced the development & release rate at the time. By turning to the cloud & a different delivery model, Adobe avoided the risk of being obsolete.

Retrospect is a beautiful thing. Looking at the wild popularity of SaaS model nowadays and the data above, it’s clear that Adobe made a correct strategic call to switch the cloud and subscription model.

Video: Howard Marks interview with Tim Ferriss

The stock markets are crashing now. For quite obvious reasons. Tariffs, trade wars, the government shutdown that has no signs of being abated soon. Markets don’t like uncertainty, chaos or unpredictability.

The S&P500 has gone down by 15% since October. Apple has lost 38% of its market capitalization in the same time frame. My phone has repeatedly received notifications on the 52-week lows of the stocks in my portfolio for the past few weeks.

The knives have started falling. Should you stand still and try to catch the falling knives?

I listened to the interview between Tim Ferriss and Howard Marks, the author of the book: The Most Important Thing: Uncommon Sense for The Thoughtful Investor; which I highly recommend.

Howard argued that it is only when the knives are falling are people terrified and do the bargains show up. If we wait till the dust settles, the bargain will be gone. But when should one start buying to take advantage of the downturn? It’s up to one’s skills. Howard also cautioned that buying during the downturn isn’t enough to guarantee returns. Investors have to be right first and if investors want to outperform the markets and everyone else, they must have insights that no one has or the 2nd layer of thoughts.

If you are interested in investing and business, it is a great interview with a lot of insights. Have a listen while driving or working out or cleaning your place. It’s worth your time.

MoviePass vs Sinemia vs AMC A-List

A few days ago, I read an article on WSJ on the subscription service from AMC, the biggest theater chain in the US. I was intrigued by this market. So I took a look at the three players in the sphere: MoviePass, Sinemia and AMC. Below are my findings.

Pricings

MoviePass

Last July, I was one of the lucky ones to enjoy the crazy “one movie a day for $10/month” offer by MoviePass before the plan was cancelled. Fast forward, the company changed its pricing to move its business model closer to reality, not dreams. Here are its 3-month and 12-month subscriptions

MoviePass’ 3-month subscription. Source: moviepass.com
MoviePass’ 12-month subscription. Source: moviepass.com

For the sake of simplicity, I only looked at the one that would allow users to watch movies in 3D and IMAX. After some calculations, a user is expected to pay at least $8.21 and $8.30 for a movie, with 3-month and 12 month subscriptions respectively, provided that such a user will go to theaters 3 times a month. It’s a bit surprising that it costs more on average per movie to have a longer subscription. Nonetheless, multiple yearly subscriptions will bring the average ticket price per movie down to around $7.5.

Sinemia

For Sinemia, prices are structured a little bit differently. There is an initiation fee of $20, depending on whether the subscription is monthly or yearly.

Sinemia’s monthly subscription. Source: sinemia.com
Sinemia’s yearly subscription. Source: sinemia.com

As you can see, subscription prices don’t change, but whether the initiation fee is added depends on the level of commitment you have with Sinemia. If we look at the same number of movies and the possibilities of 3D and IMAX as we did for MoviePass, Sinemia’s holiday plan is much more affordable. Each movie costs around $5.33. However, without the holiday plan, a movie will cost around $11.67. Their family plan is more or less the same.

It’s worth noting that consumers are willing to pay from $15 to $20 for services such as MoviePass or Sinemia. As a result, most of their prices (not all) are out of the surveyed preference range.

Willingness to pay for a movie subscription. Source: priceintelligently blog

AMC A-List

The pricing structure with AMC is much simpler and more straightforward. For $20 a month without any commitment, you can watch 3 movies a week, in any format

AMC A-list subscription. Source: amctheatres.com

If you maintain the AMC A-list subscription for a year (52 weeks) and go to theaters 3 times a week, each movie ticket will average out to be around $1.54. It’s much lower than what MoviePass and Sinemia are offering. I suspect the significant difference comes from the fact that each ticket’s marginal cost by AMC is much lower than that of MoviePass or Sinemia. AMC is a theater chain. They already have to pay for the rights to show the movies anyway. Sure, each ticket sold through the subscription comes at the opportunity cost of a normal ticket, as WSJ pointed out:

And though the service is growing AMC continues to face questions over whether the service will cannibalize its existing customer base, as patrons simply sign up as subscribers to lower their ticket costs.

But if a screen slot isn’t full anyway, I figure it’s better to put more bums on seats. The appealing price seems to gain popularity among moviegoers. Per WSJ:

AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc.’s movie-subscription program has grown faster than the theater chain expected, giving the company a predictable revenue stream as it battles other movie-theater operators and streaming services like Netflix Inc. for consumer attention.

The company said Wednesday more than 100,000 people signed up for the AMC Stubs A-List program over the past six weeks, sending the service’s subscriber count past 600,000 since it launched in late June. Company officials had set a target for the service to have 500,000 subscribers after its first year in operation.

The company now believes between one million and two million people may become A-List subscribers, up from an earlier projection of 500,000 to one million, AMC Chief Executive Adam Aron told analysts last month.

It’s clear that the subscription plan is welcomed by the end users, but does it contribute to or affect AMC’s financials? The answer is the latter, so far. According to AMC’s latest quarterly earnings report:

The decline in average ticket price was primarily due to discounted pricing for our AMC Stubs members, increased attendance from our A-list loyalty program, and declines in IMAX and 3D related attendance.

AMC’s U.S. film exhibition costs increased 7.4% to $289.0 million compared to last year’s pro forma results, representing 53.6% of admissions revenue as compared to 50.6% in the same quarter a year ago primarily due to a combination of strong box office and higher attendance from A-List. AMC continues to incur film exhibition expense on each ticket presented for admission, but the revenue associated with increased AList attendance does not currently offset the increase in film exhibition expense.

Hence, don’t be surprised that AMC will increase their prices after 12 months. If AMC increases the subscription price by $3/month, we are talking about a boost of $21.6 million more in revenue for 600,000 current subscribers. If the increase is by $5/month, the revenue addition will amount to $36,000,000.

According to Priceintelligently, there is a willingness to pay up to $25 for AMC:

The median willingness to pay, based on our algorithms, puts MoviePass at $14.89, which is about 50% higher than their actual price. What’s interesting is how similar these two services are when comparing on this metric. Willingness to pay for each flexes between approximately $5 and $20 per month, and almost up to $25 for AMC. Where MoviePass is definitely going after the volume play, AMC is priced higher than the median, at $20 a month for three movies per week.

Zoom Out to the industry

Theaters have been under pressure from streaming services such as Hulu, HBO or Netflix. It’ll only get more intense given the investment race into original content by the incumbents and the upcoming arrival of Disney streaming service which will likely bring, you guess it, Star Wars and Marvel movies – the usually big draws for moviegoers. The theater attendance in the US increased in 2018 compared to 2017 after a downward trend for the past years

Number of tickets sold. Data source: boxofficemojo.com

Hence, it’s important that customers have a great experience at theaters to justify the inconvenience of commuting instead of relaxing on the couch at home while watching all the new releases. Theaters like AMC must continue to invest to make watching movies an enjoyable experience for customers. Regarding the ticket subscription services such as MoviePass or Sinemia, their hope to compete may rest more on the availability of theaters across US. In cities, especially rural and smaller ones, or cities where AMC theaters may not be conveniently located, perhaps consumers may be more motivated to pay for the more expensive subscriptions. Nonetheless, if all the box office right owners have their own streaming services which are likely to be priced around $15 a month, it’s going to be tough for Sinemia or MoviePass to attract subscribers.

Stats on retail store size & revenue per square feet

I have been doing some industry research for work, specifically on the retail industry. One trend that CBInsights mentioned in their report was that retail stores were shrinking in size. CBInsights argued that retailers wanted to more conscious of how they made use of their retail space. The competition is so fierce that retailers cannot afford to do everything, be everything and sell everything. They tend to get more nimble in operations and conscious of what they have on display. Nonetheless, CBInsights’ latest year in their data was 2015. So I went through the financial reports by several retailers to find out if retail stores are actually shrinking in size. Before I go through the findings, below are a few important notes:

  • The list of retailers was from this article by WSJ. There are several retailers whose information was not retrieved. The omission was attributed to the way such retailers structured their data, making it time-consuming to retrieve data and complicated to explain. Hence, I decided to omit those retailers
  • Retail is a complex industry. The data is for reference only and may represent to some extent the players or trend in the industry. By no means do I believe that the data represents 100% the retail industry
  • Data from 2015 to 2017 was from the chosen retailers’ annual reports. Data in 2018 was from the latest quarterly reports. Only Walmart already filed their 2018 annual report
  • Apart from Walmart and Sam’s Club, no other companies had their revenue data retrieved. It doesn’t make sense to analyze revenue per square feet with only 3 quarters’ data recorded
  • Data is for the retailers’ US segment only
  • Revenue by Sam’s Club excludes fuel revenue

Number of stores

Among the surveyed companies, only Best Buy, JC Penny and Sam’s Club lowered their store count

Average Store Size

Best Buy, JC Penny and Sam’s Club increased their average store size. The rest decreased theirs, except Dick’s, which keeps their store size more or less the same for the past 4 years

Revenue per square feet

Only Target saw their revenue per square feet decrease in 2017, compared to 2016 and 2015. As the chart can show, 2018 looks to be a good year for Walmart. Both Walmart (the brand) and Sam’s Club increased revenue per square feet, especially the latter.

Summary

The majority of the surveyed companies reduced their total retail space, but managed to make the most of their selling space. This is in line with what CBInsights mentioned (I touched on it above as well).

The data I collected is available here on my Tableau profile

Lesson and inspiration from Lebron’s emergence as a potent 3-point shooter

As a basketball fan and somebody who strives to be better over time, I felt nothing, but deep admiration for Lebron and great inspiration from him after this story from Wall Streel Journal. Per WSJ:

There used to be a way to make James slightly worse at basketball: make him shoot. He wasn’t a bad shooter. He just wasn’t a great shooter. It was smart defense to dare him into a shot if only because that seemed like a better idea than letting him try anything else with the ball in his hands.


I am old enough to remember the time when it gave teams a better odd to just dare Lebron to shoot. He could have done much more damage with his ability to drive or his excellent court vision and passing. There were games in which he shot the lights out. Case in point, 54 out of 78 games in which he scored 40 points or more took place before 2015. 9 out of 12 games in which he scored 50 points or more happened before 2015 (Source: Wikipedia). He is indeed one of the greatest players in history, but was not known for being a great shooter.

Well, not any more. I have watched Lebron take and make more threes and, scarily, deeper threes in the last two or three years. Per WSJ:

One of the most remarkable things about Lebron is his ability to look after his body. Entering the league in 2003 and playing many more games by going deep in the post-season (he has been to the Final every year since 2010), he still has the speed and explosiveness. The vision, the passing and the post-up are still there. Now, he added the pull-up threes to his arsenal. The thing with pull-up threes and long threes in his case is that they open up the defense. Defenders have to go up farther than they wish to defend Lebron. If you know he can make a deep three at 40% rate, it will be foolish to leave him alone. Hence, more space near the basket will be available for Lebron’s teammates and himself.

We can all learn from Lebron. Great as he is, he still strives to grow by adapting his game to the changes in the league. Steph Curry forever changed the NBA with his game. To compete and get better, Lebron managed to add more skills to his repertoire.

In this day and age, access to knowledge and information is more available than ever. There is no shortage of resources that we can use to learn. On the other hand, the job market is more competitive than ever. It is no longer sustainable for any individual to stagnate and be forever satisfied with his or her own skillset. If you stagnate and don’t evolve with the changes in the market, you risk being obsolete. Take some dying industries such as mining or coal. The thing with such industries is that no incentives can save them forever when better alternatives become increasingly cheaper (renewables). Workers in those industries need to be taught new skills to be more competitive in this job market. That’s the long term solution for everyone, not the incentives by the government or tariffs.

Technology opens up a lot of possibilities, but also makes it harder for anyone of us to stand still. A lot of tools nowadays facilitate design and programming for people without technical background with “drag and drop” features. Robinhood allows individuals to invest without fees to brokers. Workers in warehouses are increasingly replaced by more and more automation. Businesses are in the game to make money. If technology can unlock more efficiency with automation and strengthen their bottom line, that’s what they will embrace. As job seekers, we have to adapt and evolve to become an asset that is hard to replace.

Archive of Startups Pitch Deck and Airtable

As part of my job is related to building sales decks, I am intrigued to know what goes into pitch decks of successful startups. Thanks to this person here, a collection of pitch decks from successful startups was gathered and shared with the public. The common theme I notice is that every deck is set out to articulate on the problem, how the startup is positioned to solve it, how big the market is and as much information on the near/long-term plan. Though some decks use more visuals than others, the theme remains quite consistent. 

Airtable

On a side note, the link should give you a glimpse of how versatile Airtable is. It is a combination of database and Excel. It has some features that Excel doesn’t such as various data type options for a cell, the ability to attach files in a cell (PDF) and different views (grid view or gallery view). You can create forms whose input will be populated into the sheets, just like a database. I was involved in a small consulting project for a local NGO and we recommended Airtable to the them after a demo. Our professor, team and client were satisfied with the functionalities of Airtable. 

Not so long ago, they reached more than $1bn in valuation. So apparently they are doing very well for themselves. If you look for a quick solution to your ordinary, but inefficient spreadsheets, Airtable may be worth a try.